There are generals and Secretaries of Defense who love war and those who don't. Eisenhower, both general and President, in his farewell speech in 1961 as he left the presidency, warned the American public about the military industrial complex. In the ensuing years, his warning has gone basically unheeded. In 2010, the U.S. military budget was $533.8 billion, more than that of the next 14 largest countries combined.
We are now spending the astronomical sum of $2 billion a week on the war in Afghanistan. More importantly, in the ten years since that war began, we have suffered over 11,000 military casualties: 1,493 dead soldiers and 9,971 injured. Those injuries in many cases are far worse than in prior wars because our medical facilities are so much better now and capable of saving lives that could not be saved in earlier wars.
Between the enormous expenditures and 94,000 U.S. personnel in Afghanistan and the 50,000 still in Iraq, our military is apparently so thinly stretched that we cannot eliminate the pirates off the coast of Somalia who have currently taken hostage and are holding for ransom more than 660 civilians and 30 ships from all over the world. The pirates have collected millions of dollars primarily from oil companies willing to pay to recover their oil cargo and freighters. More recently, the pirates have murdered some of the civilians they have taken hostage.
The press doesn't seem to challenge our government on this issue, nor does Congress. In earlier days when pirates operated in the Mediterranean from the Barbary shores referred to in the Marine anthem as the shores of Tripoli, it was President Thomas Jefferson who sent in the Marines and ended their ability to extort ransom from passing ships.
Why hasn't President Obama ordered the wholesale destruction of those pirate centers on Somalia's coast where some residents have become millionaires in what has now become a regular business? Those millions, some journalists have written, have been and are being used to equip pirates and terrorists with the most advanced weapons. I suspect the President is reluctant to take on those pirates with our superior forces for fear of being charged with the use of disproportionate force and injuring women and children in wholesale bombing of pirate villages.
We have been cowed by the barrage of criticism that comes from Pakistan and Afghanistan when we seek to kill terrorists with our drones, and there is what used to be referred to as "collateral damage." Terrorists surround themselves with civilians, including their own families and the families of others. Should that use of civilians, who in all probability know and approve of their being used in that way, prevent us from taking measures to kill terrorists who if left alive will seek every possible way to blow up Americans and indeed will blow up other Muslims when it suits their purpose?
The New York Times of March 7th reports that Afghan President Karzai denounced NATO troops for mistakenly killing nine Afghan children believing they had fired on NATO troops. The Times pointed out that according to the most recent United Nations report, "more than three-quarters of civilian casualties are now caused by the insurgents." Where is the outrage of President Karzai who wants to bring the Taliban into his government?
What we need in Congress is a brave member who every day will stand up at 12 noon and in the hour set aside for speeches by members on any subject do the equivalent of what Cato the Elder did every day in the Roman Senate, stating "Carthage must be destroyed." Today's Congress member or Senator should say "The Somali pirates must be destroyed."
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates served in the George W. Bush administration, left, and then was called back after Rumsfeld was sacked. Before that, his service included Director of Central Intelligence from 1991 to 1993 and Deputy National Security Advisor from 1989 to 1991.
Gates is now near the end of his service, having announced he is leaving the government at the end of this year. His statement given recently at West Point was a warning to the U.S. He said to an audience of West Point cadets on February 25th, "In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General MacArthur so delicately put it."
I don't know what advice Gates gave President Obama when the President was deciding what to do with respect to continuing the Afghan war. The President decided to authorize sending another 30,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan, indelibly attaching his name to that war, when he could have ordered that our involvement wind down and our troops start exiting. The President's involvement has further deepened by his moving an earlier-declared exit date of 2011 to at least 2014 and beyond.
Irrespective of Gates' advice to the President on that issue, he revealed another strongly-held position concerning the responsibilities of the Afghan government and people to defend themselves and not depend on U.S. soldiers to do what they should be doing.
In an interview Gates gave on February 22nd to Bill Kristol of the Weekly Standard and others, he reportedly said with respect to Afghanistan, that the July 2011 deadline was "the piece of the strategy that frankly I had the hardest time with during the debate." It was also reported that "Gates had opposed any timelines or deadlines in Iraq, but was ultimately convinced that going public with a date for the start of a withdrawal could be a tool in Afghanistan. 'What finally tipped me was I couldn't think of another way to grab Karzai by the lapels and say: You have to take ownership of this. This is your war. Your young men have to sign up. We will be here, we will be your partner forever, but we are not going to keep tens of thousands of American and other foreign troops here forever. So as a way of grabbing his attention and getting a sense of urgency, I felt it was - I finally agreed to it.'"
Let me ask, if we shouldn't according to Gates have gone into Afghanistan with "a big American land army" in the first place, what is the logic of having our army stay there? Why are we currently in Afghanistan?
We are allowing our young soldiers to spill their blood to support a corrupt regime, whose President Karzai has told us he wants to bring into his government members of the Taliban - the government that protected and gave sanctuary to al-Qaeda. The latter according to CIA director Leon Panetta has perhaps 50 operatives remaining in that country. President Obama and others in the Pentagon talk about our winning the war in Afghanistan. What does winning mean? Does it mean the Taliban joins the Karzai government?
While we wait for that victory our young soldiers continue to die and suffer grievous injuries. We spend $2 billion a week while our 50 states have to lay off cops, firefighters and teachers to balance their budgets.
Why are Americans not out in the streets marching against Washington until this war is ended? Simple. We have a volunteer army and a very small number of American families are directly affected. There was a time when all of America was concerned with the deaths of our young soldiers. That was when there was a draft. To be unconcerned today, as is apparently the situation, is unconscionable.
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